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Congressmen Gone Wild

New Republic on congressional irresponsibility.

New Republic, Oct. 30
A recent novel about a Republican congressman takes House Speaker Dennis Hastert as its muse, a piece reports. The book’s author, Eron Shosteck, also happens to be Hastert’s former press secretary. The speaker’s performance during the Foley fallout crystallizes the similarities: “A bumbling Republican congressman? Hastert did an almost Oscar-worthy rendition of the tongue-tied [character Charles] Lattan during his recent Foley-themed sessions with reporters. An inveterate Clinton-hater? In an attempt to divert attention from the scandal, Hastert took after various unnamed Clinton aides during a recent interview.” A piece contends that the Foley scandal has exposed the lack of party discipline among GOP House members in the post-DeLay era. Now, as Republicans like Tom Reynolds and John Boehner turn on Hastert to save their own skins, we learn that discipline “didn’t flow from some innate wellspring of collective self-restraint so much as it was maintained by a handful of determined autocrats.”—C.B.

Economist, Oct. 21
A special report on Asia’s consumers challenges the conventional wisdom that the health of the global economy depends on the America’s spending habits. In fact, Asia has fueled more worldwide economic growth than the United States has in recent years, and Asian consumer spending—led by China—is growing twice as quickly as in America. Though Asian exports to the United States remain huge, they have been shrinking relative to exports from other regions. All this indicates that “if America suffers a slump, the economies of China and the rest of Asia would slow, but they are unlikely to be derailed.” An article on London as a principal global financial center explains how it achieved that status and what it will need to do to maintain it. The conclusion: More flexible regulation has allowed London to prosper relative to its U.S. and European analogues, and the city’s other advantages—a large concentration of firms and highly skilled labor—loom larger than threats like the NASDAQ’s campaign to purchase the London Stock Exchange. —B.W.

New York Times Magazine, Oct. 22 A piece explores the tribal borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban is enjoying a resurgence. In the last five years, the Taliban has become “far more sophisticated and outward-looking” in an attempt to connect their struggle against U.S. and NATO forces to that of the larger Muslim community. They have won local approval in Helmand province by supporting poppy farmers—a reversal of the poppy ban they enforced while in power. Now Afghans are harvesting the opiate source at record levels. One dealer, Razzaq, earns up to $7,500 a month: “All the governors are doing this, so why shouldn’t we?” A profile of choreographer Twyla Tharp, whose upcoming show The Times They Are A-Changin’ sets modern dance to Bob Dylan songs, highlights a forceful personality and unmatched work ethic that command dancers’ respect. The author asks Tharp if she’s happy: “I work,” she replies. “Happy is like a value judgment. Good, bad, happy. I wouldn’t know how to evaluate.”— C.B.

New York, Oct. 23
If preliminary polls are any indication, the Democrats are set to take over the House, according to a piece. That is, unless “the Democrats, being Democrats, somehow fuck it up,” the writer frets. But even GOP pollster Frank Luntz concedes that it will be hard for them to fumble this one: “The Democrats never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. … But I think it’s almost impossible, even for them, to blow it this time.” The soapy cover article detailing the troubled marriage of New York attorney general candidate Jeanine Pirro and Al Pirro reads like a cautionary tale for career-driven wives. They were the perfect striver couple—Al worked behind the scenes building his business, making contacts, and raising money that fueled Jeanine’s political ambitions. Eventually Al grew disillusioned after spending too many nights eating dinner alone, wishing someone was there to tell him “you’re smart or you’re good-looking or you made a good business decision.”—Z.K.

Weekly Standard, Oct. 23
An article contends that it’s time for the United States to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin over his increasingly undemocratic rule and anti-Western foreign policy. Since taking office, Putin has slowly cast aside democratic principals in favor of authoritarian tactics such as renationalizing the economy, cracking down on freedom of speech, and limiting parliament’s power. The writer argues that Putin’s cozying up to China, distancing Russia from the West’s sphere of influence, and his aggression toward Georgia indicate that the man who called the dissolution of the Soviet Union the “greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century” is bent on “reviving one feature after another of a police state.” Fred Barnes tells Republicans to steady themselves for bad news on Election Night. Their only hope to hold on to hemorrhaging congressional seats is for Karl Rove to engineer the capture of Osama Bin Laden right before Nov. 7, Barnes counsels. “Rove is clever, but not that clever,” he laments.— Z.K.

The New Yorker, Oct. 23 A piece discusses water shortages in the world’s poorest regions. Despite major breakthroughs in irrigation and water delivery technology, “nearly half the people in the world don’t have the kind of clean water and sanitation services that were available two thousand years ago to the citizens of ancient Rome.” In India, 40 million people live in slums with no running water. The most popular solutions, such as dams and desalination, require energy and infrastructure unavailable in many rural towns. Water policy expert S. Janakarajan thinks India needs to do a better job collecting rainwater. “Everyone wants to solve this problem with smart technology,” he said. “We are more likely to solve it by simply being smart.” A piece looks at Renán Almendárez Coello, whose seven-hour Spanish morning show, El Cucuy de la Mañana (The Bogeyman of the Morning), rules the Los Angeles airwaves. The show ranges from raucous to raunchy to drippingly sentimental, but Coello’s priority now is to mobilize Latino voters.— C.B.

Time and Newsweek, Oct. 23 A Time piece weighs the likelihood of a Barack Obama presidential run in 2008. On the campaign trail, voters greet the Illinois senator as “the political equivalent of a rainbow—a sudden preternatural event inspiring awe and ecstasy.” He bridges racial and ideological gaps with ease. And when asked about his candidacy, Obama’s response, however dodgy, is “definitely not a no.” But his noncommittal balancing act—a style that has worked so far—may become a liability on the national stage: “You have to convey strength,” said one Chicago politician, “and it’s hard to do that when you’re giving on-the-other-hand answers.” A Newsweek article follows Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California on the verge of her likely accession to House speaker. Her disciplined, audience-tested style mimics that of her GOP detractors. She fights Republican attempts to paint her as a liberal villain by avoiding the limelight: “Two thirds of the public have absolutely no idea who I am,” she says. “I see that as a strength.”

On North Korea: A sprawling article in Newsweek chronicles the history of U.S.-North Korea relations that led to last week’s nuclear test. The relationship peaked under President Clinton, capped by Kim’s genial 2000 meeting with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. South Korean President Kim Dae Jung wishes Bush had followed through: “I am confident that if President Bush had [pursued] the agreement sought by President Clinton the North Korean issue would have been resolved, and I am very sorry about that.” While the detonation itself was “little more than a nuclear popgun,” the world’s top proliferators could still do serious damage. Even if sanctions hurt its economy, Pyongyang could “resort to illicit funds instead—the kind that can come from WMD sales.” A Time piece contends that North Korea’s nuclear test changes the global playing field for the worse. Mutually assured destruction is no longer a deterrent, with an “unpredictable host of Bomb throwers” like Iran, Pakistan, and al-Qaida ready to join the nuclear club. Former Defense Department official Graham Allison calls the test “bad news for the country, bad news for the region, bad news for the world.”—C.B.

The Atlantic, November 2006 A sweeping profile of Hillary Rodham Clinton suggests her successful Senate career may inhibit her presidential prospects. The author describes Hillary’s rise as “a pattern of ambition, failure, study, and advancement.” Since her health-care bill died in 1993, Clinton has played a cautious game, taking “small steps” without much political risk. Despite her name recognition and ability to reach across the aisle, critics see her latest incarnation—no longer the “brashly confident leader of health-care reform”—as unlikely to defeat a popular Republican like John McCain. … A piece examines the emerging genre of dramatic video games. Two programmers spent five years designing Façade, an emotionally charged “interactive drama” that breaks from the dominant action-thriller mold. The game, which features two characters in a marital crisis, may remedy the “real lack of meaning” in video games. But there’s just one problem: “Façade is ingenious, but it is not fun.”—C.B.